Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mandatory Voting: A Bad Idea

President Obama thinks that forcing us to vote might be a good idea. That he could favor punishing people for not voting -- which means taking their money by force and imprisoning or even shooting them if they resist -- is unsurprising. The essence of government is violence -- aggressive, not defensive, force. Government is not usually described in such unrefined terms, but consider its most basic power: taxation. If you can’t refuse the tax collector with impunity, you are a victim of robbery. It doesn’t matter that government claims to render “services” if you don’t want them.
Most of us learn young that violence is wrong except in defense of self or other innocent life. To those who say society without government would be problematic, I reply that most of us also learn that even a good end cannot justify a bad means. Besides, most of the ills that government “protects” us from -- such as economic distress and terrorism -- result from its own policies.
Aside from the violence inherent in the system, mandatory voting has conceptual problems. Enthusiasts of modern government often say that voting is a right -- the most sacred right in some people’s eyes. (More sacred than the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?) It’s also said to be a duty. Can it be both?
Having a right means you may freely decide to take -- or not take -- an action without forcible interference by anyone else, including people in the government. Your right to the car you bought signifies that you are free to use it peacefully -- or not. It makes no sense to say that your right to your car obligates you to use it or face punishment. Anyone who talks that way simply does not understand what a right is. A right, then, differs from an enforceable duty.
The story is the same with voting. If one has a right to vote, the idea of making the exercise of that right mandatory is absurd. No matter how many good consequences Obama dubiously foresees from compulsory voting, they can’t change the fact that forcing people to exercise a right makes no sense. It’s a sad commentary that he is not ridiculed widely for his suggestion.
If voting is a right, it can’t be a duty, and if it’s a duty, it can’t a right. Perhaps it’s neither.
I’ve assumed people have a right to vote, but let’s not be too hasty. It’s an odd right, indeed, because it entails participation in the process by which government officials are chosen. But as we’ve already established, government’s essence is aggressive violence. Can you have a right to participate in what would be condemned as a criminal operation if it were run “privately”? Can you have a right to help determine who will govern others against their will?
If for the sake of argument we concede the right to participate in the political system, shouldn’t we have to acknowledge the corollary right not to participate? I don’t mean just the right not to vote, but the right to opt out of government altogether -- voting, taxation, war, regulation. Yet government does not let us theoretically free people opt out of individual programs -- try opting out of the Mideast wars or Social Security -- much less across the board.
In other words, no matter how often we’re told that the government exists by the consent of the governed, it really does not. Were you asked to consent? Please don’t say that remaining in the country counts as consent, for that would assume what is here disputed: that before any specific consent, the government has legitimate jurisdiction over the territory known as the United States of America. In fact, consent is merely presumed, and nothing you can do will ever be taken by the government as legitimate withholding of consent. Yet if that is true, then nothing you can do could logically constitute consent either. To repeat: if nonconsent is impossible, so is consent.
Individual freedom in moral communities requires not an impotent “right” to cast one vote among multitudes, but the right to ignore the state and live peacefully.

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog "Free Association" and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Friday, March 20, 2015

TGIF: Rethinking the U.S.-Israeli Relationship

The Benjamin Netanyahu on display in the days before and after Tuesday’s Israeli election is the same one who has been in power all these years. Right along, he was there for all to see, so no one should have been surprised by his performance. I seriously doubt that anyone really is surprised. Americans who slavishly toe the Israeli and Israel Lobby line may act surprised, but that’s really just their embarrassment at having to answer for the prime minister of the “State of the Jewish People.” (If Israel is indeed the State of the Jewish People, it follows that the lobby may properly be called the Jewish Lobby, though that seems to offend some people. The term need not suggest that every person identifying as Jewish is pro-Israel or pro-Likud. I have known religious Jews who are severely anti-Israel and anti-Zionist.)
Democrats especially are in a bind. They can’t afford to distance themselves from Netanyahu and alienate Jewish sources of campaign donations, yet they are visibly uncomfortable with his so openly racist fear-mongering about Israeli Arab voters -- “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” The Democrats' defense of that ugly appeal as merely a way to get the vote out is disgraceful. (Imagine something equivalent happening in the United States.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

TGIF: Another Would-Be Critic of Libertarianism Takes on a Straw Man

We must face the fact that criticism of the libertarian philosophy in the mass media will most likely misrepresent its target, making the commentary essentially worthless. That’s painfully clear from what critics publish almost weekly on self-styled left-wing and progressive websites. How refreshing it would be for someone to set forth the strongest case for libertarianism before attempting to eviscerate it. Is the failure to do so a sign of fear that the philosophy is potentially appealing to a great many people?
The latest cheap shot is David Masciotra’s piece at Alternet, “‘You’re Not The Boss of Me!’ Why Libertarianism Is a Childish Sham.” As the title indicates, the upshot of the piece is that only a child would wish not to be subject to the arbitrary will of others. Thus Masciotra has disguised a brief for authoritarianism as a plea for communitarianism.
Reading the article, I find it it hard to believe that Masciotra consulted anything more than an essay or two by a high-school senior or perhaps a college freshman with no grasp whatever of the long, rich liberal tradition from which the modern libertarian philosophy is derived. In other words, our author makes no attempt to take on the strongest case for libertarianism. Instead, he does what so many of his allies do: take the easy way out, counting on his readers’ confirmation bias to immunize him against skepticism. Masciotra quotes not one libertarian, though he gets in the obligatory slam at the standard caricature of Ayn Rand -- “the rebel queen of their icy kingdom, villifying [sic] empathy and solidarity” -- as though she were the first and last word on libertarianism. He seems unaware that substantial libertarian critiques of Rand abound, not to mention that Rand’s thought is more complex than he indicates. (And no, Mr. Masciotra, Scott Walker and Gordon Gekko are not libertarians; their views have no relevance to this political philosophy.)
So what does Masciotra have to say? Let’s sample his “critique”:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Senate Republicans Push for War with Iran

Iran has its hardliners on the United States, and the United States has its hardliners on Iran. It’s understandable if you think they are working together to thwart detente between the two countries. Neither side wants its government to negotiate a nuclear deal and thaw the cold war that’s existed since 1979.
This week hardliners in the U.S. Senate took another step toward thwarting detente by writing to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei that if he and President Obama negotiate a “mere executive agreement” on Iran’s (civilian) nuclear program that is not approved by Congress, it will bind neither Obama’s successor nor a future Congress. The letter comes on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bellicose speech about Iran before Congress. Like that speech, the senators’ letter is intended to sabotage the P5+1 talks now in progress.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ben Carson Inserts Foot in Mouth

Ben Carson, a conservative hopeful for president, made headlines last week by proclaiming that being gay or lesbian is "absolutely" a choice. His evidence? "A lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight and when they come out they're gay," Carson said on CNN. "So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."

QED, apparently.

Friday, March 06, 2015

TGIF: The War of 1812 Was the Health of the State, Part 2

As the War of 1812 with Great Britain approached during the Republican administration of James Madison, the War Hawks saw silver linings everywhere. (See part 1.) “Republicans even came to see the war as a necessary regenerative act — as a means of purging Americans of their pecuniary greed and their seemingly insatiable love of commerce and money-making,” historian Gordon S. Wood writes in Empire of Liberty. “They hoped that war with England might refresh the national character, lessen the overweening selfishness of people, and revitalize republicanism.” The money cost of war was dismissed as insignificant compared to national honor and sovereignty. Indeed, the war was called the “Second War of Independence.” Wood quotes the newspaper editors of the Richmond Enquirer: “Forget self and think of America.”

Thursday, March 05, 2015

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